Betty Buckley will be appearing in concert on Nov. 22 at Dominican University, (708) 524-6454.
Growing up in the early 1980s involved watching a lot of cheesy television. None was more apt to be served with a side of crackers then ABC's Eight is Enough. For four seasons, I faithfully watched Tom (Dick Van Patton) and Abby Bradford (Betty Buckley) juggle work and family life with often-comic results. And secretly, I wished for a mom like her. Abby told it like it was but still managed to be, above all else, a mom.
But Betty Buckley is more than just a television mom. The accomplished actress, singer, and dancer is indeed the true 'triple threat.' She's been labeled the 'voice of Broadway' by New York Magazine. And Entertainment Weekly describes her performances as 'definitive, moving, and letter-perfect.' With a resume like Buckley's, it's not hard to believe the hype.
Born in Fort Worth, Texas, Buckley began singing at the tender age of two in front of her church's congregation. Dance lessons soon followed with her aunt, Mary Ruth Diltz, as the teacher. No amateur herself, Aunt Mary was a former dancer for Billy Rose at his theatre, Casa Manana. Her singing was all self-trained, though. For hours on end she would listen to singers such as Judy Garland and Della Reese for inspiration. Then during a summer stock production of The Pajama Game, Betty witnessed first-hand the choreography of Bob Fosse. And her life would never be the same. (Later, she would finally work with Fosse as Catherine in Pippin.)
Her official professional stage debut was at 15 in the production of the beloved musical Gypsy. Another ironic twist is that years later she would portray Mama Rose in the Papermill Playhouse production of the classic.
She was a head cheerleader at Texas Christian University, where journalism might have been her major, but performing was in her blood. In 1966 she won Miss Fort Worth and toured with the Miss America pageant during the Vietnam War. It was that experience that caused the then-21-year-old to return to the states and write for a living. By 1969, with much encouragement, she headed off to New York to follow her dreams. The rest, as they say, is history.
She won a Tony Award for her portrayal of Grizabella, the Glamour Cat, in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats, and a second nomination for Best Actress in '97-'98 for her role in Triumph of Love. Her interpretation of Norma Desmond in both the London and New York productions of Sunset Boulevard won her many rave reviews.
Buckley's additional Broadway credits include Lloyd Webber's Song and Dance, her Broadway debut as Martha Washington in the production of 1776, Pippin with childhood idol Bob Fosse, and the plump role of Margaret White in the cult classic musical Carrie. (Buckley's film debut was in Brian de Palmas' version of Stephen King's Carrie.)
Recently, Buckley returned to the role of Jenny Diver in Threepenny Opera at the Willimastown Theatre Festival, was featured on the USA Network series Monk as Cheryl Fleming, and had an ongoing role on the HBO series Oz.
Her newest album, Stars and the Moon, Betty Buckley Live at the Donmar, received a nod from the Grammies with a 2002 nomination. She's completed eight CDs with her ensemble. And for more than 25 years, she's also been a teacher of acting and song techniques at the Terry Schreiber School and at numerous universities.
With all this, it's hard to believe that Betty Buckley has time to breathe, let alone time for herself. That is why I was honored when I got the chance to interview her between flights early last week. After all, it's not often I get to interview an idol from my childhood.
WCT: What has been your favorite Broadway role?
BB: By far, I would have to say it's a tie between Grizella, the Glamour Cat in Cats. The other one is Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. But all of them have been wonderful in their own way.
WCT: Which venue do you prefer to work in film, Broadway, or television?
BB: I love them all, but performing live in concert is my favorite. It gives me a chance to work with my musicians and to sign the songs. There's just something about working in front of an audience. I love it!
WCT: Which of your Broadway roles have been the most challenging?
BB: By far it was Norma Desmond. It was extremely psychically demanding. It encompassed everything that I've ever learned in my craft. That is why it is also one of my favorites.
WCT: What can fans expect from the upcoming concert here in the Chicago area?
BB: The material for the upcoming Dominican University concert will a compilation of my body of work. So they can expect a little bit of everything. Plus, we're working on a new show for Finstein's at the Regency in New York. So we'll be covering some of that material too.
WCT: What's your motto for life?
BB: Really I don't have one. I just live every day of my life.
Her resume is one of the best in Broadway. She's worked with the top names, performed at the top venues. She's sunk her teeth into some of the juiciest roles known, recorded numerous CDs, performed live all over the world. She's an intelligent and witty woman with some of the 'best pipes in musical theatre.'
There seems to be nothing that Betty Buckley can't do. Much like the character that she played in my youth, she's got it together. And I still wish that she were my mom.